Apple and the birth of the drive-time podcastJune 18, 2012: 6:54 AM ET
The company has an opportunity to turn an afterthought into a new mass medium
FORTUNE -- "As I've described many times before in this space, Apple's core competency is finding common but horrible content consumption experiences and replacing them with awesome, Apple-designed experiences."
So writes Mike Elgan, long-time editor of Windows magazine, who has seen the light and now contributes to Leander Kahney's Cult of Mac.
The horrible content consumption experience to which Elgan refers is car radio.
"The cheesy commercials. The lack of control over selection. It's awful," he wrote on Saturday. "Anyone who gets used to listening to podcasts and downloadable music has trouble even listening to car radio."
The occasion for Elgan's outburst is the podcasting news that leaked out of Apple's developer's conference last week through AllThingsD's Peter Kafka.
Podcasts, for those unfamiliar with the medium, are the Internet's version of talk radio -- audio recordings downloaded via the Web or streamed online to a computer or mobile device.
Apple (AAPL) didn't invent podcasting, but it gave the medium an important platform seven years ago when it included -- almost as an afterthought -- native support of podcasts in iTunes 4.9.
The news last week was that Apple has removed podcasts from its iTunes app in iOS 6, the new version of the iPhone and iPad operating systen due out this fall. Instead, podcasting will reportedly be given its own application -- a move that could be interpreted as either an upgrade or a downgrade depending how prominently Apple features the new app.
Elgan, who describes himself as a "HUGE fan of podcasts," is counting on an upgrade. And he imagines a scenario in which Apple's podcasts are integrated with the new automobiles being designed with Siri controls built into the steering wheel:
The home-run approach to all this is that you subscribe to your favorite podcasts, and new episodes download automatically from the cloud to your phone. When you're in your car, you tell Siri: "Play my podcasts," Siri will play them in reverse chronological order or in order of user rankings (depending on your preferences).
During your daily commute, you'll listen to "talk radio." But instead of desperate groups of un-funny idiots trying to imitate Howard Stern or put-you-to-sleep NPR type shows, you'll hear the podcasts you've selected from the thousands available.
NPR doesn't put me to sleep, but otherwise I'm with Elgan on this. Most talk radio to me is a cesspool of disinformation. Podcasts, by contrast, are my go-to drive-time medium and what I listen to when I ride my bike or walk the dog.
I never miss a weekly episode of my favorite hosts on the 5by5 Network and Mule Radio, and many an interstate car trip has been shortened (and brightened) by a marathon of missed episodes of The Moth, This American Life or You Look Nice Today.
Apple has a unique opportunity here to take podcasting to the next level, introducing a rapidly developing medium to millions of new listeners. Let's hope they don't blow it.